Exhibitionism

26Feb18

Our recent days away in East Anglia’s second best county (sorry Suffolk, it’s a close run thing though) were mostly spent resting and recuperating, however some treasure hunting was permitted.

Amongst the treasure found was a copy of the Official Guide to the Brussels World Exhibition in 1958, a handsome thing full of intricate, coloured maps centering in and around the Atomium – one of the few (safe to say only) buildings depicting “nine iron atoms in the shape of the body-centred cubic unit cell of an iron crystal, magnified 165 billion times”.

I’d assumed that having been born in the 1970s (albeit only just) I’d missed the opportunity to visit one of these events, however according to the ExpoMuseum website (who, in this respect, seem to be the fount of all knowledge) they’re still going strong with the last being held in Astana in Kazakhstan just last year.

Sadly the next one, due in 2020, will be located at the home of “ugly excess” (aka Dubai) – so maybe we’ll make the one after.


BLOG - Lavenham

Three days away with Mrs Weir, in “one of the most beautiful small towns in Britain”, which according to recent news was responsible for saving a 15-year-old Andrew Lloyd Webber from thoughts of suicide.

I’m not sure whether a blue plaque will appear to note the occasion, however given that there wasn’t anything noting the spot where a certain Mr John Hayes (aka Mr Howard Marks) was arrested back in 1980 it’s probably unlikely – such modern diversions would probably be unwelcome. 

Hoping to return (to Suffolk) later in the year when the weather allows a somewhat less monochromatic experience.


In an attempt to avoid filing away some of the more recent acquisitions to the ephemera archive here at Weir HQ quite so quickly, I’m going to try and get a little better at showing and telling. Partly as an aide-memoire to myself, and partly because some additions to the collection are well worth sharing.

First up is this set of New Traffic Signs cards.

Cigarette card sized, although produced by The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, they detail (with further explaining text on the reverse) the new British traffic signs introduced in 1965 as a result of the work of The Worboys Committee and of course the designers responsible, Jock Kinneir and Margaret Calvert.

They’re an undeniably handsome collection of cards, that are still as (largely) relevant today as they were when produced over 50 years ago.



BLOG - Speechification #2

A few years ago there was a corner of the world wide web called Speechification.

According to those behind Speechification, it was “A blog of Radio 4. Not about Radio 4 but of it. We point to the bits we like, the bits you might have missed, the bits that someone might have sneakily recorded. And other bits of speech radio might find their way here too. Of course, one day this might turn into something else… maybe a new way of curating radio, or maybe it won’t.”

As an indicator of what they were pointing people (and in this instance specifically me) towards, a blogpost I wrote in 2008 states that they “have allowed me to pick up on an excellent interview with the Pet Shop Boys from The London Ear on Resonance FM, a half hour guide to Glitch presented by Paul Morley (somewhat incongruously broadcast on Radio 2) and a programme on Erics, the legendary venue in Liverpool (which was still very good despite being presented by Steve Lamacq)”.

Sadly it didn’t become a new way of curating radio as it’s now no longer transmitting.

With that being the case I’m going to try and pay homage to what the Speechification people were doing, and occasionally publish blogposts to remind myself of some of the great radio that I’ve listened to. And at the same time, signpost anyone who finds themselves here to programmes they may have missed. I don’t know how often I’ll publish these posts, that will be somewhat dependent on others, although I will try and persevere with them (this is the second post on the theme, so it might be a while before I celebrate Speechification Vol.100).

So here are three programmes, all from Radio 4 (albeit one via a repeat on Radio 4 Extra), and all I hope, firmly in the spirit of the original site.

The Doppler Effect with Charles Hazlewood
Any radio documentary that includes the use of “a steam train, a brass band and an internationally famous conductor” to recreate an audio experiment from 1845 is alright by me, although it does suggest that the careers advice I received as a young man was of a very poor quality because at no point in time was this kind of activity ever suggested as a way to pay the bills.

The Howling Terror Mystery
Another documentary, and to be specific another documentary on Victorian audio experiments. This time we find Alan Dein investigating the amplification experimentation of a Mr Horace Short out on the South Downs back in July 1900. Alan Dein’s involvement means that this was always going to be worth a listen as he’s responsible for so much great radio – coincidentally it was the original Speechification site that led me to his brilliant Don’t Hang Up programmes (which you really should investigate further if you have the time). And whilst not wholly relevant it’s perhaps worth noting that there currently appears to be no band operating under the name of The Howling Terror Mystery, which seems much remiss.

The Foghorn: A Celebration
And so, to a third piece of radio. A third piece of radio celebrating another Victorian audio invention. This time it’s the foghorn, invented in 1855 by Canadian inventor (albeit a Canadian born in Scotland) Robert Foulis. Quite what he’d have made of Jason Gorski’s (aka The Fogmaster) guerrilla foghorn concerts out in San Francisco Bay is anyone’s guess.

Finally, as you’ve got this far, here’s two additional podcast tips for you.

The first is The Boring Talks over at the BBC (I haven’t worked out whether the programmes are being broadcast on the radio at any point, and I don’t suppose that really matters). Presented by James Ward, the man responsible for the (hugely enjoyable) Boring conferences, the first two episodes see Steve Cross researching the end of the world using The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (it was a Thursday), and Tracy King trying to explain the self-defeating end point of algorithmic book pricing.  Given that both of the first two episodes reprise talks already given at previous Boring conferences there is no doubt plenty of really dull stuff still to come.

The second podcast is 41256 from Russell Davies, one of the original Speechification team – and as it happens the gentleman responsible for the (again hugely enjoyable) Interesting conferences – some days everything’s connected eh? It sells itself as a collection of “fragments of interesting radio/podcasts/sound” and has already proved of great worth in sending me off in unusual directions to investigate the source material further. It also clocks in at just under 4 minutes and 13 seconds, which means that even if you’re not tempted to invest the time to listen to any other of the recommendations you’ve surely got the time for this? 


I’m going to stop starting these increasingly rare posts with an apology for their lack of frequency, partly because that presupposes that there is anybody out there sitting patiently waiting, and partly because it wouldn’t really matter if there was.

So, what was intended as an opportunity to reflect on the weeks that were has now passed that point by some mark.

For what it’s worth said reflection seems to suggest that once again I spent much of my time staring out to the horizon, an obsession resulting from living in a land where not much interrupts the line that seperates the sky from the earth.

Horizon

Look, a mirage, like a round rim, a strange
Wizard’s masterpiece about us:
An old line that’s not there,
A boundary that never ends.

David Emrys James

(h/t to Maxim Griffin for the poem)

 


Back To Nature

06Nov17

Whilst I’m an enormous fan of the changing seasons (and the transition from summer into autumn in particular) my little grey cells always suffer from the lack of sunlight available to me at this time of year.

The one and only thing that seems to help remedy this situation is immersing myself in the great outdoors.

So on Sunday Mrs Weir and I travelled a few miles North to Sculthorpe Moor Reserve to do just that.

As ever we read the ‘spotted today’ board at the entrance of the reserve with a certain amount of cynicism, unconvinced that we’d manage to tick off quite so many of the great and good that others had seemingly seen in abundance. I’m never particularly annoyed that this happens, I know that you’ve got to put in the hours, it’s just (mostly) amusing to consider the number of hides we’ve sat in over the years without seeing a thing – and I really do mean a thing. It also probably doesn’t help that the time it takes to remove my glasses and focus the binoculars is usually well in excess of the time that anything of note is prepared to hang around in order to be observed.

Today was different though.

We’d wandered across the length of the reserve with a number of unremarkable sightings of some of the usual suspects (although to be fair the sight of a goldfinch in all it’s finery is never not remarkable). Then as we turned to slowly head back, Mrs Weir heard the sound of something in the water nearby, and there not fifteen feet from where we stood was an otter arcing slowly through the river away from us.

The temptation when this kind of thing happens is to pack in whatever you’re doing, you’ve struck lucky and expecting it to happen again is a foolhardy presumption. However we’d not been there long and as it was a handsome autumnal morning we wandered back to one of the hides we passed earlier, the hide feted as the most likely location to spot the kingfishers that were alleged to live in the vicinity.

We’d visited a handful of times before now and had always come away sensing that our expectations had been unnecessarily raised. So we were more than prepared to just sit and stare for a while.

However only a few minutes later, out in the distance in front of us I noticed something hovering above the water. I couldn’t tell what it was to start with but my brain knew that it was new to me so I took notice. And then it clicked.

A kingfisher.

Before today we’d always assumed that the mention of the kingfishers was bait to lure unsuspecting visitors to this easily missed corner of the Norfolk countryside. Thankfully we were wrong.

I don’t spend nearly as much time as I should out in the wilds, however whenever I do it always rewards me more than I probably understand. To quote Mr Tom Cox (author of the excellent 21st-Century Yokel): “We need to stop perceiving nature as an outsider’s hobby. It’s not some quirky extra to the main business. It is the main business.”


A Civic Vision

29Sep17

Blog - Civic Centre#2

On Tuesday, Mrs Weir and I spent the day in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, apparently the 21st best place to live in Britain.

Whilst there I managed to pick up a copy of a book produced by the City Architect’s Department back in November 1968, about one of my favourite Newcastle buildings, namely the Civic Centre.

Sadly on the very same day we were visiting news filtered through that the City Council have plans for it, plans that the Twentieth Century Society object to in the “strongest possible terms”, believing they would cause “substantial harm” to what it describes as “one of the most important pieces of post-war civic architecture in the country”.

The fact that the plans proposed by the Council include “the construction of meeting pods and a café” perhaps tells you all you need to know about those responsible for looking after this building. As Adrian Jones (aka @jonestheplanner) says over on his blog “the Civic Centre reminds us of the sort of civic vision and initiative that cities like Newcastle used to have”.

Sadly it looks like some people need reminding of that more than others.

Blog - Civic Centre#3